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Brilliant Nigerian Lady, Who Emerged Student Of The Year At UK Varsity, Shares Her Story in Interview

Halima Ali, a brilliant Nigerian lady from Adamawa state who was named the student of the year at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, has in an interview narrated how she became the student of the year.

In this interview with ENIOLA OYEMOLADE, Tribune’s correspondent, Halima talked about what made her travel abroad, how she felt when she was named the best student, why she will still remain in the UK, and her experience as a hijab lady in another country.

Tell us a bit about your background

I come from a very large extended family of 30 children. My parents are of the Marghi ethnic from Shuwa town, Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa State, but I was born and brought up in Maiduguri, Borno State. I attended Elkanemi Primary school and Elkanemi college of Islamic Theology Secondary school and had my undergraduate degree at University Of Maiduguri where I studied Bachelor of Medical Laboratory Science. I then did my MSc in Immunology at Usmanu Danfodiyo University Sokoto and now PhD in Immunology at University of Manchester.

What fuelled your interest to study abroad and how did you go about it?

I think what fuelled my interest to study abroad is the need to do a research of international standard. I wanted to make an impact in patient’s lives by contributing to discovery of disease cure, and I know that I won’t have access to such facilities in Nigeria. So I decided to start looking for international opportunities. I applied for countless of scholarships for MSc and PhD, but when I wasn’t able to secure any for my MSc, I decided to do the MSc in Nigeria. Thereafter, I resumed my scholarship search for PhD abroad, and I was able to secure a Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) scholarship to come to the UK.

You were named student of the year at the University of Manchester. How does this achievement make you feel?

Winning the student of the year award still feels unreal. Till today, I look at the award and medal and think “wow, so this really happened?” What I feel/I am feeling is indescribable. I thought getting a scholarship to come to the UK was the best thing to happen to me, but this tops it up, so Alhamdulillah.

For one to be named student of the year, what criteria must they have?

Student of the year selection is a long tedious process. It starts with nomination by a supervisor; the supervisor has to write a convincing statement outlining one’s research achievements with tangible proofs. Then the supervisor needs to get four other senior staff (professors) in the department to back their nomination. This is then sent to the division level where a panel will judge and select one nominee from all other departments under the division.  Then it is sent to the school level, then faculty level and finally the entire university. So it’s a very tough competition and one must have a strong academic feat to be able to scale through all the levels.

What would you say you did differently that made you achieve this feat?

I think what I did differently to achieve this feat was my selfless commitments towards my work. I volunteered my time and expertise to help with COVID-19 research when everyone was afraid to come out of their houses let alone touch confirmed positive samples.

At that time, all I thought about was that I finally have a chance to make a direct positive impact on people, all I wanted was to help and I didn’t think anybody was noticing what I was doing.

It was really difficult to be honest; long sleepless nights trying to generate and understand data. Also, transcribing such data to make clinical sense when little was known about the disease itself.

What area did you specialise in during the course of your study?

My main PhD research is to understand how B cells (a type of immune cell) contribute in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD, a lung disease that causes high mortality in the developed world) pathology. When COVID-19 hit, I decided to research the immune mechanisms in COVID-19 patients. Since my main PhD research is lung immunity, it kind of fits perfectly into it.

Tell us what your PhD research was about.

My PhD was about researching the spatial immune responses in acute COVID-19 and COPD.

Were there some challenges you encountered during the research process? How did you overcome them?

I encountered lots of challenges during the PhD journey. From dealing with change of environment, loneliness, the very cold weather, accommodation issues, isolation and unfriendly environment, to figuring out a lot of things by myself with little or no help. What helped me the most in dealing with most of these difficulties was my support system. I have a very supportive husband that was always there to help and calm me down. My supervisors were also amazing in helping me figure things out; they always make me feel like I know what I am doing even though I feel like a fool most of the time. Also, my resilience, hard work and dedication made me push through the difficulties.

How was your experience as an African Hijabi in another country? Was it hard to cope?

My experience as an African Hijabi in the UK is fantastic. What I love about the Brits is their politeness and consideration towards one culture and beliefs. I’ve never for once experienced any discrimination or disrespect towards my religion or attire. I’m not saying that there is no racism or Islamaphobia, but I am saying that they don’t show it to your face. It is against the law to discriminate people, and people can actually be sacked because of that. So it wasn’t hard to be honest and I didn’t have any problem with that.

Would you choose to remain in the UK over coming back to Nigeria?

I won’t necessarily choose to remain in the UK, I, however, want to stay for now to gain more experience so that I will be able to have the maximum impact in my country when I come back.

I have a very high ambition for Nigeria. I want to help as many people as possible to have access to world-class facilities just like I did, by establishing a research facility and getting enough funding support to cover most of the research. These are things that require lots of funding, so I need to be experienced enough myself to be able to attract such funding too.

Also sharing the good news of her award on LinkedIn, Halima wrote: “It is hard to put this feeling into words. Nevertheless, I am very grateful for such an important and momentous occasion in my life.  “It is a huge honor for me to receive the distinguished achievement medal award for the best postgraduate student of the year 2022 from the VC and President of The University of Manchester, Thank you so much for this.”

Hundred of LinkedIn users have celebrated and congratulated Halima on their platform. Below are a few:

Mustapha Aliyu wrote: When I first saw the news I thought it were a joke! Allah ya sanya alkhairi HAJIYA (with capitals). You really made us proud! Congratulations 👏

Tahir Idris wrote: Congratulations MLS. More wins and blessings mentor

Abdullahi Muhammad wrote: Can’t show case my happiness after reading this, may Allāh subhanahu wata’ala continue taking you to greater heights, ameen thumma ameen. Will be happy to be considered as your mentee

Ajah Stephen wrote: Congratulation my dear. You have made our dear country proud.

READ ALSO: Final Year Female Student Commits Suicide After Failing To Graduate

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